Chili's "better than bland" ad campaign hinges on poking fun at a fake competitor -- P.J. Bland's, a restaurant chain that serves food literally made of cardboard. But while P.J. Bland's lacks an edible menu, most real restaurants would envy its Web presence: There's an official Twitter account (with a ridiculous 1,107 followers), "behind-the-scenes" videos on YouTube, and PJBlands.com, the restaurant's official site, is chock-full of interactive content, including pun-filled menus, snarky job applications, and a "Bang Out a Meal" game that challenges players to stamp food out of cardboard.
It's an entertaining ruse, but it's also one that rarely mentions the actual client. Aside from a pop-up "ad" that occasionally appears on PJBlands.com, there are few clues that P.J.'s is a comic foil for Chili's, and in some ways, the fake restaurant has eclipsed its parent: Chili's itself lacks a Twitter account or Facebook page.
Dave Gardiner, executive vice president of the Hill Holliday agency and art director of the campaign, isn't worried about the unorthodox investment. "We think savvy users are going to give the Chili's brand credit for creating a fun experience," he says. "We believe that creativity can be one of the things that makes a brand stand apart from the competition. P.J. Bland's website is a fun, interactive foil... Once we had the idea, we wanted to make everything about P.J. Bland's as real as possible."
Gardiner adds that engagement on PJBlands.com has exceeded expectations: "For people who are intrigued by the concept, there's a depth to the experience that goes well beyond two page viewings." And Hill Holliday execs say that Chili's proper will have its own official Twitter account and an increased web presence soon. May we suggest a Flash game involving the Molten Chocolate Cake?